I took my mom to New York City for her 60th birthday. She had never been on the city before. Seeing New York and visiting Ellis Island was on her bucket list, and I was happy to oblige. Planning a first-time trip to NYC was a lot of fun.
Here are my recommendations of what to see and do on a weekend trip to New York City, especially for someone who is visiting the city for the first time.
See a Broadway Show
Seeing a Broadway show is my #1 favorite thing to do in New York City. Even if Broadway tours visit your city, the magic of Broadway isn’t found anywhere else. You’ll love the intimacy of the theaters, the posters, the lights and most of all the performances. Read this post for my tips on saving money on Broadway tickets.
Visit Central Park
The iconic Central Park in NYC is worth the hype. Walking paths, carriage rides, ponds, bridges, the zoo and so much more. Know that the park is HUGE so you won’t be able to see it all. We decided to do a 20-minute carriage ride, which was terrific because our guide told us so many facts about the park and area around it. (Prices are $56 for 20 minutes.) It definitely was a highlight of her first time visit to NYC. Had we spent more time in the park, I would have done the Stuart Little Pond and the Zoo!
Visit the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
Before airplanes, New York was one of the major ports people immigrated through to live in America. Plan to spend a few hours visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The iconic landmark and important center for immigration is a powerful visit.
The Statue of Liberty has recently opened a brand new museum, which is fantastic and worth checking out while you are there. You'll see the original torch, copper casts of parts of the statue, pictures from it being built and so much more.
On Ellis Island, we stopped by the Memorial Wall to see the names of my ancestors who passed through Ellis Island as they immigrated to America.
To visit these two landmarks, we chose to do a guided tour, which was fantastic. The guide gave us a much deeper understanding and appreciation of what we were seeing. Our tour went from 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. and then we stayed another 90 minutes.
Experience Times Square
No trip to New York is complete without seeing Times Square. The lights, the sounds, the people! Note that it is always crowded, but crowds are more intense in the evening. Be sure to stop in a few stores as well. Most of the stores have special stock dedicate to New York, or at least items you likely wouldn’t find in your hometown. I love the Disney Store.
Take a New York City Bus Tour
At the last minute we booked an evening bus tour and it was an awesome way to see a lot of the city all at once, including many areas we couldn’t otherwise squeeze into the weekend. We chose to do an evening tour that left just before dusk and it was wonderful to be on the top of a bus, driving through the city as the sun went down. Tip: Check Groupon for discounted tickets. The tickets I bought were 2 for $35, which was a great deal for the 2-hour tour.
Walk-in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral
You’ll feel like you are in Europe when you step into this gorgeous cathedral. It will likely be on your path as you walk to Times
Stop by the 9/11 Memorial
The two acre-sized pools, featuring the names of everyone who perished on 9/11 are a moving tribute to the people whose lives were lost on that horrific day in American history. You might see roses on some names to signify the person’s birthday. If you have time, also visit the 9/11 Museum. Though I have not been to it, many have said it is incredible.
Visit a NYC Museum
New York City has so many museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Natural History, the Jewish History Museum, the Tenement Museum, the Spy Museum and so many more.
We visited The Met, which was spectacular. With exhibits from all over the world + special exhibitions, you could easily spend a whole day at The Met. I appreciated that the $25 ticket gives you access for three days, so you could easily go more than once during your visit. Be sure you go on the rooftop for spectacular views of the city!
Eat Lots of Food
Write a post on Facebook or Instagram asking for NYC restaurant recommendations and you will receive far more than you could ever visit. My #1 recommendation is to go to the Stardust Diner on 51st (near Times Square). Singers wanting to make it on Broadway are servers/performers at this one-of-a-kind restaurant. Plan to wait in line and know that it will be WORTH IT.
Visit Little Italy and Chinatown
Little Italy is a street within Chinatown (Mulberry Street). Go there to have a wonderful Italian meal + dessert (gelato and canolis). We absolutely loved Bella Vita's $11.95 lunch specials. Afterward, do some shopping in Chinatown, which is known for its knock-offs and deals.
A few other NYC recommendations
If you want to swap some of these ideas, here are some other recommendations for great places to visit for your first time in NYC.
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
The New York Public Library
Top of the Rock
Empire State Building
Circle Line Boat Tour
Grand Central Station
Shop beneath The Plaza Hotel
Also, check out these blog posts from other travel bloggers I love:
Hamilton Grange National Memorial (Alexander Hamilton's House)
Buy a CityPass
Though I didn’t buy one this time because of the activities we chose to do, I highly recommend buying a New York City CityPass as a way to save a lot of money on museum/tour tickets. It's especially perfect if it is your first time in NYC and you want to do a lot of the most popular attractions.
CityPASS admission in NYC will save you 44% on tickets to the following:
Empire State Building
American Museum of Natural History
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
Ferry Access to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Click here to read how we used the CityPASS in Atlanta.
There’s no right way or best itinerary to visiting New York City. I hope this post gives you some good ideas on where to start for your first time in NYC.
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